Just Be: Thoughts on Kinky Boots – October 29, 2018

A person’s sense of identity and freedom to (or at least attempt to) express their true self is often tied to their upbringing. The expectations a parent has for their children and its impact on their sense of identity and perception of those around them is at the heart of Kinky Boots, based on the film of the same name, which in turn is based on true events of a struggling shoe factory in Northern England changing its product from men’s formal shoes to flashy men’s high heel boots. This is the second (of four) pair of tickets obtained at the Broadway Cares Flea Market, and I had an interest in seeing the show, thankfully before its closing date in April 2019. I wasn’t familiar with the source material, though I was familiar with some of its songs, originally written for the show by pop singer / songwriter Cyndi Lauper.

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The story follows Charlie Price, whose father owns and runs Price & Sons, manufacturing men’s shoes. While Charlie was raised in the family business, it’s one in which he had little interest; his inheritance of the family business after his father’s death leaves him at odds with himself. A chance encounter with a drag queen named Lola (and her woes in finding appropriate footwear for her act) gives him the inspiration to save the family business. The interactions between the working-class factory workers and the flamboyant Lola and her “angels” is a source of friction at first, but are resolved in the end, with acceptance from both sides.

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As the second consecutive show to feature a score written by a pop artist and featuring a premise with a clashing between tradition and modernity (not to mention sparkly costumes), I enjoyed Kinky Boots and its message of being true to oneself in the face of prejudice, and overcoming the (oftentimes) overwhelming expectations placed upon them from a parental figure, in this case, Charlie’s and Simon’s (Lola’s real name) fathers. The set design was fantastic, with traditional moving set pieces, and plenty of glitzy strobe lights. The cast was fantastic – J. Harrison Ghee was phenomenal as Lola / Simon, displaying the gamut of emotional range – flamboyant and confident in “The Sex is in the Heel” and “Land of Lola” to vulnerable in “Not My Father’s Son” an “Hold Me in Your Heart”. Mark Ballas (of Dancing with the Stars fame) was surprisingly good – I had seen him on TV as a dancer, and was unaware that he was a singer as well. There was a short speech after the curtain call for the bi-annual fundraising effort for Broadway Cares.

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The stage door scene was not too crazy, though it was a fairly brisk evening; most of the cast came out to sign playbills and pose for photos. I had a fantastic time at Kinky Boots and was glad to have seen it before its final performance. Its message of being your true self (despite what adversity you may face) is a powerful message in this day and age. Amid the glitz and glamor (and the accompanying up-tempo songs) there are moments of quiet introspection that are just as valid and valuable.

As the final songs says:

Just be.

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Love Comes First: Musings on Head Over Heels – October 16, 2018

Love stories are an integral part of any Broadway musical – some are comic, some are tragic, and they always invoke strong emotions and (sometimes) life lessons. Head Over Heels, currently playing at the Hudson Theater, has an abundance of heart at its core, with love of all kinds on display without judgement. While the show is a loose adaptation of The Arcadia, an Elizabethan prose poem by Sir Philip Sidney, with its score comprised of songs of the 1980’s pop band The Go-Go’s, its message is timely and relevant for 2018. I obtained tickets the usual way I obtain tickets in the autumn (via the TDF table at the BC/EFA Flea Market & Auction). I will admit I have some preconceptions about the show (as it’s yet another “jukebox” musical), so my expectations were not that high. Nevertheless, I went into the show with an open mind, as there were a number of Broadway actors I liked in the show, I liked many of the Go-Go’s songs and I was intrigued by the Elizabethan tone (though I was not familiar with its source material).

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The story is set in the land of Arcadia, ruled by a mythical “Beat” that falls under threat proclaimed by a new oracle Pythio, who deems the kingdom too traditional. The King of Arcadia takes the royal family on a journey to prevent the prophesies (involving his wife’s fidelity and his daughters becoming entangled with questionable suitors) from being fulfilled. Mistaken identities, miscommunication and misconceptions lead to self-discovery, acceptance and a new “Beat” for Arcadia to follow.

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The overall design (set, costumes and lighting) was amazing – bright, colorful and fun, befitting the energy of its score. The cast was astounding, exuding joy while blurring the gender lines – Peppermint, (a runner-up on the reality competition show RuPaul’s Drag Race), is the first transgender actor to originate a character that identified as non-binary, and played Pythio with equal parts sass and wisdom. Another standout was Bonnie Milligan, also making her Broadway debut, as Pamela, the eldest princess proclaimed “the most beautiful woman in the land” whose body shape matches her big, brassy voice – her self-assurance of her beauty, and the fact that it is accepted as such (and not the butt of any jokes) is revolutionary. The overall tone is a bit tongue-in-cheek, as there are moments of poking (not necessarily breaking) the fourth wall, and its (somewhat) self-awareness of the dialogue spoken (mostly) in verse. Unbeknownst to me, the performance I attended was a benefit for the Actor’s Fund, and there was a brief speech after the curtain call.

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The stage door was surprisingly low-key, though I’m not sure if that was due to the fact that not many people know where the stage door was located. The Hudson is a relatively new theater, and one I had not yet visited, so I (naturally) asked where it was before the show – it’s on the W. 45th street, accessible by going through the Millennium Hotel next door. I managed to meet many of the cast (including getting photos with the entire principal cast – a first).

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Needless to say, my preconceptions about the show were shattered, and the show exceeded my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed Head Over Heels – it’s equally entertaining and enlightening, with a powerful message of inclusivity and acceptance of all gender identities. It’s almost as if the premise of Head Over Heels is a metaphor of sorts of the state of things in America in 2018.

Perhaps a new Beat is needed to create a better society.

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